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Friday, March 13, 2009

The Heights


Technology changes and yet some things stay the same. Take the location of towers as an example. Usually, towers are located on the highest point in the area to afford the longest unobstructed line of sight possible. It doesn’t matter whether the purpose of the tower is visual observation like you find in old fire towers or electronic communication for the ever-increasing wireless networks. A clear view is important. It is a matter of simple economics. The fewest number of towers to do the job is the cheapest way to go.

Most of the old forest fire towers are now abandoned. We have better ways to do the job. We can even spot forest fires from space satellite imagery. But still, towers and heights seem to attract us. The towers that haven’t been torn down are fenced in and the bottom ladders have been removed to keep people off of them. But there are always people who disregard the barriers and find a way to climb the old towers anyway. We are drawn to high places. Some of this is the spirit that makes people climb mountains: the challenge of the climb. But we are wired to value the view. Maybe it is primal, a survival skill. The longest view lets us see any approaching danger. Whatever the reason, we still put a premium on the view.

The modern version of the mountain top, the premium view, is the top-floor corner office in the high-rise office tower. This is usually reserved for the senior person in the organizational pecking order. People work like dogs to get into the corner office and they relish the view when they get there. Views are symbolic of status and power. I once had a corner office (only on the second floor) but it looked out on a beautiful pond. I mourned the day I had to move out of that office. I hardly had a person come see me who didn’t comment on the view. It gave me a certain amount of organizational status irrespective of my actual position.

Property with a view commands a premium. Whether it is a mountain top of ocean-side, we will pay real money for the long, unobstructed view. If an area is being developed, the shore and the hillside always bring the highest price. People go to extraordinary lengths to build their homes in precarious places just for the view. You can hardly go a year without seeing a California hillside home either burn in a brush fire or slide down the mountain in a rainstorm. And then the owners immediately rebuild in the same location.

We are creatures with limited capabilities and we value ways to extend our inborn assets. Whether it is a view for our sight, communication networks for our hearing, or transportation systems for our legs, we are have a natural affinity for that which extends us. Technology extends us. Our insatiable desire to transcend our limitations drives technology. I wonder sometimes whether technology tickles the same part of the brain that lets us enjoy a sunset on the ocean shore? Are we neurologically wired to seek the innovative for the same reason we seek the sunset? Maybe we’ll find that answer at a future sunrise.

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